A Tesla Model S Plaid, a limited-edition $130,000 vehicle capable of going stupidly fast, erupted into a fireball just days after being delivered to a customer in Pennsylvania, according to lawyers representing the unnamed customer.
"Our client was trapped & could have died," tweeted Ben Meiselas, a lawyer with the firm Geragos & Geragos.
The Model S Plaid, a souped-up version of the Model S, is capable of acceleration from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than two seconds, has an advertised top speed of 200 miles per hour—more than double the legal speed limit of any road in the U.S.—and a peak power equivalent of 1,020 horsepower. To achieve this performance in a safe manner with a flammable Lithium Ion battery would require extremely sophisticated battery management techniques.
It appears that, at least in one case, that goal was not achieved. Mark Geragos, whose firm is representing the driver he only identified as an "executive entrepreneur," told Reuters when the car initially caught fire, the driver was not able to get out because the Tesla's electronic door system didn't work. Only by using "force to push it open" did the driver escape, according to Geragos.
Fires occur in all types of vehicles and there is no evidence that electric cars catch fire more often than gas ones or that Teslas are more prone to fires than other electric vehicles. Chevy Bolts and Hyundai Kona EVs, among others, have been recalled for battery fire risks. Tesla has previously come under scrutiny from federal regulators for battery fires, in particular regarding the battery management software governing older models, although it has never been forced to issue a recall. Still, a brand new vehicle achieving technically impressive benchmarks for public relations purposes exploding and almost trapping the owner inside due to the stylish but pointless computerized door handles exemplifies nearly every criticism Tesla faces as a company that prioritizes generating news and pushing technical boundaries over safety.
Motherboard sent a perfunctory email to Tesla for comment but does not expect a reply given that Tesla no longer has a media relations department, but we will update this article with any tweets Elon Musk sends on the subject.